BMA in Brief – January 14, 2019

To help you stay informed we will do our best to provide high level summaries for the bi-monthly Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) meetings. These summaries will be fact based with a focus on key items covered in the meetings and summaries of the votes taken. Where needed we will cover important discussions individually.

Mayor Mike Palazzolo welcomed new City Attorney Mac McCarroll and new Alderman Scott Sanders to the board.
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During the Executive Session, changes were made to the agenda. Beer Board item 9.a. was pulled by request of the applicant. On Consent Agenda, two items were pulled from Consent. 10.d will become item 11 and 10.e will become item 19.

9. Beer Board – Poplar Food Mart #1 approved for off-premise use and Rock N Roll Sushi approved for on-premise use.

10. Consent Agenda -approved as amended.

11. Professional Services Agreement Supplement No.2 – Final Closeout Right-of-Way Appraisals – Wolf River Boulevard/Germantown Rd. Intersection Improvements Project – Approved 4-1

12. Change Order No. 2 – Forest Hill-Irene Road Improvements – Requested increase of $37,631.33 (total project is $6.15M) for increased cost estimates for fiber optic lines needed for traffic signal connectivity and coordination and culvert replacement under the road near the school site. Original plan was to add on to the existing culvert however there were cracks and open joints that necessitated the full replacement of the culvert. – Approved 5-0

13. Election of Vice Mayor – Mary Anne Gibson selected 5-0

14. Grant – Leadership Germantown – Request for approval of budgeted grant of $13,600 for Leadership Germantown – Approved 4-1

15. Purchase – Fire Engine – Request for $859,539 to purchase a new custom fire engine.  The purchase will allow F139 (Engine 93) to be placed in reserve.  F139 is 28 years old and typical life span for this type of equipment is 15 years front line and 5 years reserve. Approved 5-0

16. Resolution 19R03 – Banking and Signature Cards. Approved 5-0

17. Ordinance 2019-5 – Amendment to Zoning Ordinance Chapter 23 – SmartCode: Site Standards 1st Reading – The proposed change clarifies language in the code about the width of curb cuts.  This change is needed to insure fire equipment can safely access properties. Approved 5-0

18. Ordinance 2019-6 – Amendment to Zoning Ordinance Chapter 23 – Wireless Transmission Facility 1st Reading – Change in wording to allow for stream lined approval of equipment upgrades on existing facilities and establishment of policies and procedures for placement of small cell wireless facilities in public right-of-ways as a result of changes to state law. This item generated discussion on how state law may allow many small cell towers all over the City of Germantown. Approved 4-1

19. Professional Services Agreement Supplement No. 4 – Wolf River Boulevard/Germantown Rd. Intersection Improvements Project. Approved 4-1

 

Germantown Road Realignment?… DOA until 2023

Almost a year ago, Germantown Voice began blogging as a way to engage in political conversations. Our first blog was about the Germantown Road Realignment Project.

This topic continues to pop up, usually as a part of an argument that the “current administration” doesn’t listen to citizen input. Even as late as October last year, there were social media posts saying the Germantown Road realignment project wasn’t dead.

Officially, it is dead until at least 2023. Why 2023? This is where it gets a little complicated. Every 3-5 years the city submits a list of proposed projects to the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization). The MPO is the organization that prioritizes Local State and Federal funding for road and transportation projects in the Memphis Metro area. See the map below for the area covered by the MPO.

The list submitted this year is for projects between October 2019 and September 2023. The prior list was submitted to the MPO in 2013 and that was the list that included the Germantown Road Realignment project and McVay Road Realignment, both of which were not pursued due to community feedback. This year is the first opportunity for the city to submit their new list of priorities for funding of major road projects. Noticeably absent from the list is the Germantown Road Realignment. This is even after claims that last year’s resolution to kill the project were potentially just election year placations.

The time frame for MPO requests is long range due to the long range nature of projects. In many cases, it can take years for design, review, Right of Way acquisition and construction. These projects are important to the city as the majority of them are funded primarily or even wholly with State and Federal funds. In other words, these projects don’t impact your property tax rate.

Road projects are paid for a couple of different ways. First, is the paving of residential streets. The city pays for that as part of the Public Works budgets, roughly $2,000,000 a year. Next, is the work on major roads. These projects are funded with combinations of Local, State and Federal funds. This is where the MPO comes in to play.

When I saw the list of projects I had several questions about the priority of the funding and the MPO process. I sat down with City Engineer Tim Gwaltney last week to discuss the list and how the MPO works.

The MPO funds come from 3 to 5 main buckets. Traditionally, it has funded projects under three main categories, Bridges, Paving and Signalization. Germantown usually sees at least one of each of these types of projects funded. For example, even though the new traffic light at Houston High School is number six on the list it is the highest prioritized signalization project on the City’s list so it is likely to be funded. There are two new categories this year with funding for Safety Improvements and Plans & Studies. The prioritized list is below:

  1. Wolf River Blvd Mill/Overlay from Riverdale to Western City Limits $2.0M (80% Federal)
  2. Forest Hill-Irene Safety Improvements Poplar to Wolf River Blvd $5.0M (80% Federal)
  3. Poplar Culvert Replacements – Phase 5 $550K (100% Federal)
  4. Update City Major Roads Plan $200K (80% Federal)
  5. Intersection Safety Audits $200K (80% Federal)
  6. Signalization Wolf River Blvd @ Houston High $500K (100% Federal)
  7. Signal Upgrades $2.5M (100% Federal)
  8. Neshoba Road Mill/Overlay from Germantown Rd to Exeter $1.5M (80% Federal)
  9. McVay Road Bridge Replacement (just north of McVay and Messick) $600K (80% Federal)

The city will not get official word on which projects are approved by the MPO until near the end of the budgeting process for the city. We will keep an eye on the process and let you know what gets approved from the MPO as soon as we find out. You can find out more detail about each of these projects by following the link below.

https://gtown.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=c75ea4248dc44953b9dcc2287f85670a

For even more information on the City of Germantown’s Transportation Improvement Program funding requests for 2020 to 2023, please attend the public meeting  January 9 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Economic and Community Development Building, 1920 South Germantown Road. Learn more here.

BMA in Brief — December 10, 2018

To help you stay informed we will do our best to provide high level summaries for the bi-monthly Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) meetings. These summaries will be fact based with a focus on key items covered in the meetings and summaries of the votes taken. Where needed we will cover important discussions individually.

No items on the consent agenda were moved to the regular agenda during the Executive Meeting prior to the BMA. For those unfamiliar with the consent agenda, it is a mechanism for approving routine business that doesn’t necessarily need to be addressed individually by the entire board.

Below our summary is a link to a video of the entire BMA meeting for your review. We have provided approximate start times for each item.

  1. Citizens to be Heard (begins at approximately 8:15)
  • Four citizens thanked Alderman Barzizza for his years of service.
  • One citizen expressed concerns about the GPAC Grove costs.

9. Consent Agenda as listed on the agenda was approved. (begins at approximately 16:33)

  1. Contract – GPAC (Germantown Performing Arts Center) Grove Outdoor Venue (begins approximately 17:55)

GPAC Executive Director Paul Chandler gave an extensive presentation explaining the design and purpose of the Grove Outdoor venue. The Grove will be a park-like setting with a casual atmosphere. Mr. Chandler described it as a community gathering place for family and friends and an outdoor reflection of the indoor space.

Additionally, there will be a 32-foot-wide high definition video wall at the back of the stage and will allow a simulcast of events inside the venue and events from across the world. GPAC will be the third venue in the United States with such an arrangement. GPAC has raised $2.5M amount toward the $5M project.

Two GPAC Board members spoke in favor of the project. (Begins approximately 29:50)

Discussion began at approximately 36:58 and the contract was approved by a 4-1 vote.

Be always sure you are right, then go ahead!

I was recently listening to an audio book and the author cited one of his favorite quotes as being from Davy Crockett. Crockett, the famous Tennessean who served in Congress and lost his life in the battle at the Alamo was known for saying “Be always sure you are right, then go ahead!” I have heard that before but it really stuck with me this time.

We are in a political environment that is full of contradicting information and some flat out lies. It is incumbent on us as voters to wade through all this information and try to discern what is truth. We at the Germantown Voice are working together to lay out some of the key items we see as hot button issues either called out by candidates themselves or championed on social media.

First and foremost, we recommend watching the Germantown Chamber of Commerce Candidate Forum. At nearly two hours it is long but it is worth your time to be an informed voter. The program begins with the Alderman and then transitions to interviews with each of the Mayoral candidates. Be open minded and listen to both candidates.

Listening to Citizens – There is a narrative that says that certain candidates are not listening to citizens. Have you reached out to your officials directly?  You might find they are very responsive. Did you know that the long term plans you hear referenced (including Forward 2020 & 2030) are all citizen led? Those plans were not just a handful of people either: they included over 1,000 participants in task forces and public meetings. The commissions that approve initial concepts for projects are all citizen led. All these meetings are open to the public, many are available on YouTube though the Germantown Municipal Television page.

Development – In general, there is a perception that the city is “pushing” development. Let’s be clear – the city doesn’t solicit development. If you listen to this YouTube video taken from the public hearing on the rezoning of the Cordova Triangle, you can hear the property owner clearly state that developers are approaching them with projects. They continue to approach the land owners even with the moratorium in place. Development is happening because land owners and developers see value in Germantown.  Can you blame them? Look at the success of Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Check out the lines at Rise and the new Apple store. So be careful when someone tells you the Mayor and Aldermen are pushing development. Be sure you understand where the demand comes from. The Commission, Mayor and Aldermen are all performing their roles as checks and balances to the system to be sure proposals meet zoning, codes and overall vision of the city. There is a lot to discuss about the value of being sure we grow the right way and we will add to that conversation.

Smart Growth – This concept is limited to very specific areas of the city. The intention is to maximize the property tax and sales tax generation for these targeted areas like the central business district (think Poplar and Germantown Rd) and the Western Gateway (think Poplar and Kirby). These areas are already commercial but, in many cases have 40+ year old retail space in need of updating. The intent is to make sure those updates help generate more tax revenue thus reducing the dependence on residential property tax. Did you know that the taxable property on the 9.7 acres of Travure will be valued well over $30m when done? You would have to develop nearly 100 homes on 1/4 acre lots valued at $500k to generate the same tax revenue. And my estimates of value are likely very low. The incomplete office building was assessed at $10m in FY18 and the hotel will be worth north of $15m when complete. There is a whole other parcel to be developed as well. That also doesn’t include any sales or hotel taxes generated there.

Apartments – We have all seen plenty on this topic. There are TV ads claiming that 1,200 apartments have been added to our “Fair City.” That is false any way you look at it. As of today, the only fully approved and under construction apartments are Thornwood with 276 units. Thornwood is the first new apartment complex in Germantown in nearly 20 years. You may see a map of developments around the city that cite other projects in the approval process but it is important to know the facts about each of these.

  • Watermark was voted down 4-1 by the BMA (284 Units). However, the developer is suing the city.
  • Viridian (310 units) is concept phase only and requires additional reviews with the planning commission and BMA approval. This project has not moved forward at all (despite what you may read in come social media groups) and will get tremendous scrutiny when it does.
  • Arthur Property (Saddle Creek 265 units) is approved in concept phase only.
  • Parc (371 Units) withdrawn by applicant, not under consideration.

Portables – The fact is that the new elementary school will address all of our capacity needs at the elementary level. Depending on transition plans with the new school, portables could be gone as early as next year. Any candidate that tells you they will do it faster should probably run for school board as they don’t have the authority to change zoning or enrollment plans that would be necessary to facilitate that change. The city has been working with the GMSD Board of Education to address this problem since day one. Twenty-five portables were removed at Riverdale and the remainder will be gone from Farmington and Dogwood within the year.

Taxes – Claims of 45% increases over the last 4 years are just wrong and frankly out of context. By their math your tax rates are actual down since 1990 when the rate was $2.16. Do you pay more taxes than you did in 1990?Of course you do, that is why context matters.

Read our series on Tax Rate Truth  (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)for full details about what the increase really is and the story around why your taxes have gone up. In the last 4 years, we have added a brand new school system, helped address deferred maintenance of the all schools ($26M reduced to $11M), added a police district, seen our fire department upgraded to ISO Class One and invested in our parks and greenways. We get tremendous value for our dollars as our rates are less than half that of Memphis and our services and amenities the best in the region.

“Hold the Line on Taxes” – The annual budget process includes a 5-year projection that helps anticipate the timing of potential tax rate increases. This year the City Administrator projected we should get at 5 more years out of our current rate meaning that whomever is mayor will likely not have to raise taxes in the next term. Listen to it here.

Growth of City Staff – Did you know that in 2000 the city had 400 full time employees? In FY19, we now have 406, including 40 additional first responders. This illustrates the gains in efficiency in running city operations while shifting resources to important areas like fire and police.

Streetscape – You may have seen plans float around for Streetscape work on Exeter. This like many other issues is intended to be a wedge issue that divides the community. This issue was so misrepresented that the city had to issue a statement to clarify the status of the streetscape project. Read the truth here, straight from the city of Germantown.  This project is not actively being worked and will require significant community input before anything is approved.

Carrefour – This property was built in 1973 and has had two major remodels over the years. The developer is seeking to rework this property in three phases. If you listen to the candidate forums it appears that nearly everyone agrees that that property needs to be remodeled, even John Barzizza doesn’t seem against the idea of apartments being included as part of this project. He clearly points out that this is different than a stand-alone complex off Winchester (Listen Here). By the way, there are no fully approved projects off Winchester despite his statement.

Cell Phone Coverage – This is another attempt to create a wedge issue. Did you know the laws regarding cell towers in Germantown have been changed already? Did you know the city does not own cell towers? The carriers and their partners own them. The City has approved a new tower on the Wolf River Greenline, another at Madonna Learning Center on Poplar, added cell boosters to the schools and increased the allowable height of towers, all to improve coverage in Germantown. Now the carriers need to make their investments, or would you like your tax dollars to subsidize their profits?

Blogs – Like the Germantown Voice, Shining a Light is an opinion blog. It presents some factual information that supports a point of view. Our blog does the same. We try to offer perspective to the community. We don’t all have time to watch BMA meetings or attend commissions, but wouldn’t it be great if we did? Read a diverse perspective but keep in mind that stories can pick and choose what they include. That is why we recommend listening to the Candidate Forum above. You can hear directly from the candidates, side by side answering the same questions.

Social Media Leadership – Is your expectation that elected officials monitor social media and seek out to engage in every post? That would literally be a full-time job. Yes, major issues on social media do get the attention of your officials but usually because someone contacts them directly to start the discussion. Leading via social media is one step away from mob rule as often times the loudest voices may not represent the majority.

Germantown Bulletin Board – Did you know that the group that administers this Board, which reaches 13,000 people, is made up of open supporters of John Barzizza’s “Team?” One admin is also campaign manager for a school board candidate (Brian Curry), and is campaign manager or has done campaign work for two alderman candidates (Scott Sanders and Jeff Brown) and Mayoral candidate John Barzizza? To our knowledge there is no political diversity among this group. That matters because they approve all the new posts and moderate discussion. Originally political discussion was not permitted on that forum, now it doesn’t take long for any topic to turn political. Just something to keep in mind when reading posts in that group.

We will close with this final and appropriate quote from Davy Crockett: “I am at liberty to vote as my conscience and judgment dictates to be right.”

 

Correction 12/18/18: A previous version of this article stated that Brian Curry and Angela Griffith employed the same campaign manager.  This evening Mrs. Griffith informed me that she did not use the same campaign manager referred to above.  Apologies to Mrs. Griffith for the misunderstanding.  The mistake stems from the fact that her financial disclosures indicate she purchased her campaign sings through Mr. Curry’s campaign manager.

Tax Rate Truth – Part 4: Reserve Funds

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It is vital that we maintain the healthy reserves that keep our community fiscally secure. Alderman Massey refers to these as “profits” in his discussions on the topics; however, it is more accurate to think of them as savings accounts. In the next to last reading of the budget Alderman Massey (seconded by Alderman Barzizza) proposed a property tax cut (discussed in this blog). Their proposed cuts remove the funding that goes into our reserve balances and potentially require the draw down of those reserves.

Reserves are built over time with the knowledge that there are significant investments in infrastructure that are needed to maintain a city like Germantown. This is something the city has done very well over the last 20 years. Responsible fiscal management has lead to award winning budgeting processes and allowed our city to not just grow but thrive. This firm financial base is the foundation for our best in class city services like our Fire and Police. They don’t come cheap and require investment to maintain those levels long term, along with our schools and quality of life amenities like GPAC, Library and Parks.

Let’s look at a real world example. The city will likely need a new fire station in the not too distant future. This is something that is in the city plan and part of the strategy for building reserves. We as a community could pay for this one of two ways. We could build reserves and pay for most of it as the expense is incurred or we could borrow money to pay for it. At current rates and a 20 year bond term we would pay $6,476,702 for a $5,000,000 fire station as opposed to paying cash out of our savings.

But the implications of borrowing money go beyond the cost of borrowing money. This is where experienced financial leadership and municipal planning become extremely important. If you borrow money for the fire station you can’t borrow money for other improvements or even maintenance items in the city. Think about all the deferred maintenance that is being addressed for GMSD as they catch up on years of neglect. Like your household, the city has limited borrowing capacity so we need to be wise about what we choose to use the bond funding option for. It doesn’t stop there either. The more you borrow the more reserves you need to maintain your bond rating or the rates for borrowing go up. The other option is that you get a tax increase every time the city has to do a major project. Poor planning puts the city in a “paycheck to paycheck” mentality and increases the likelihood of more frequent tax increases.

The other thing of concern is that if we follow the policy proposed in the last budget meeting it is likely that we would lose our AAA bond rating. This just compounds the fiscal issues by raising the rates at which we borrow money. While this policy may reduce your tax rates in the short term it is very concerning in the long-term impact of raiding the piggy bank for a short-term win. It takes years of disciplined fiscal management to get in our enviable position. Unfortunately, one bad budget can undo all of that work.

Tax Rate Truth – Part 3: Sales Tax Risk

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Too much dependency on sales tax leads to a need to raise property taxes when the economy slows down. Improperly tying support of our schools to sales tax revenue also will lead to property tax increases.  Here we see a clear example of this in FY14, proof that we need to be careful about how we use our variable revenues. Recent budgets show the City has learned from these lessons and remains conservative in their sales tax revenue projections. What does that mean in layman’s terms? If you are paid on commission for your work, you probably shouldn’t build your household budget for the year on your best month of sales. Alderman Barzizza and Massey both pushed for the last two budgets to include a higher dependency on sales tax revenues.

Hear him in his own words here. Then listen to Patrick Lawton explain the way sales tax is budgeted and why.

Shortfalls in sales tax projections first impact Infrastructure Replacement Programs (IRP) and then Capital Improvement Programs.IRP projects are things like roads, drainage and water main projects that provide services to our city.  CIP projects are investments in our future like a fire station, schools or greenway improvements. Being conservative in our estimates allows the city to pay cash as opposed to issuing debt and maintains our fund balances needed to keep our rates low. Click here for more info on the Reserve Balances in Tax Rate Truth – Part 4

The budget doesn’t clearly call out the impact of the sales tax shortages other than showing a 4% shift. High level math says that a 4% shift in the General fund of $43.6 Million would be a $1.7 Million shift into property tax funding. With the FY14 Budgeted Property Tax Revenues of $28 Million that implies that roughly $0.12 of the $0.445 increase is due to Sales Tax short falls.

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Keep in mind that the value that you get for that $1.97 (or $1.95 for FY19) tax rate. Our neighbors in Memphis pay $4.05 or over double our rate. Collierville pays $1.83 but they have a much larger dependency on Sales tax with more big box stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot and Walmart. They also see more sales tax revenue from car dealerships and the Carriage Crossing Mall. Collierville’s dependency on sales tax, and shortages this year, resulted in them having to cut positions from their FY19 budget. We don’t want to be in that position.

Tax Rate Truth – Part 2: Do The Math

For over 15 years I have worked in corporate finance. I have made a living telling stories with numbers, helping executive leadership to understand complex investments, operations and projects in as simple terms as possible. It is easy to get turned around by all these numbers, it happens to the best of us. That is why I have worked with my father, a retired Certified Financial Planner, to double and triple check these calculations.

The first step in this process is to look at the FY14 rate and its individual components. As you read this you will find that there are clear economic, legislative and community needs that drove the increases.

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Step two is to account for the impact of the FY18 reassessment impact. The reassessment raised the average value of property in Germantown by 9.7% between FY14 and FY18. That doesn’t mean that every house went up in value by that amount, it is simply the weighted average impact to assessed values of property in Germantown. To keep comply with the Truth in Taxation laws and keep the revenue generated from the city’s property tax rate flat, it was calculated that the rate should go down to $1.76. So all of the items above that used to sum up to a $1.93 tax rate now sum up to $1.76. I will refer to that impact as rate restatement. That means that the base rate in FY14 is no longer $1.485, the impact of the reassessment make that $1.354. The math in the table below shows the breakdown of the FY14 rate in FY18 terms.

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One major part of our concern is that the impact of the FY14 reassessment is lumped into their calculation for the tax increase. In FY14, the decline of property values meant that the rate had to be increased to hold revenues flat (the inverse of what happened in FY18). That is the second of the two lines highlighted in red above. That going forward that number is included in my FY14 base as it is not an assessment impact as opposed to a rate increase.

To accurately state a growth rate you have to have a good starting number. When they use $1.485 as their starting point they are omitting two key factors for accurate analysis, assessment impact and rate restatement. So when you restate the rate it is $1.354 and add back the assessment impact of $0.087 your growth rate should be calculated based on $1.441 in terms of the FY18 tax rate.

The table below shows how you add up the restated components of the FY14 tax rate with the FY18 increases to get the final rate approved by the BMA.

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Now we are in a position to calculate a growth rate. We have a correctly adjusted base number to have a true apples to apples comparison. You can see the components that drive the increase. Please take a moment to understand the importance of the Sales Tax Impact and why we must be conservative in our budgeting of it by reading Part 3 of this blog. It is also important to understand that the FY14 increase was intended to restore reserve balances that had been lowered due to the Great Recession, read more about that in Part 4 of this blog.

Also keep in mind that these rates help fund our schools and 9% points of the total increase of 36.7% directly funds the needs of our new elementary school and Forrest Hill improvements needed to access it. The Hall Tax is a state income tax that was allocated to municipalities and is being phased out. That funding gap needs to be addressed. When you look at the components, it is clear to see your taxes were not frivolously raised for no reason. As stated previously, there are clear economic, legislative and community needs that drove all of these increase. These rates have helped fund deferred maintenance at GMSD, invest in parks, improve the police force and add ambulance service. All these things add to quality of life in Germantown and make it the place to live in Shelby County.

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Keep in mind that the value that you get for that $1.97 (or $1.95 for FY19) tax rate. Our neighbors in Memphis pay $4.05 or over double our rate.  Collierville pays $1.83 but they have a much larger dependency on sales tax with more big box stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot and Walmart. They also see more sales tax revenue from car dealerships and the Carriage Crossing Mall. Collierville’s dependency on sales tax, and shortages this year, resulted in them having to cut positions from their FY19 budget. We don’t want to be in that position thus we budget conservatively.